U Michigan DT Maurice Hurst – Hurst looks an awful lot like current LA Ram and Beast/Thing/Half-God DT Aaron Donald. Hurst measures at 6’2″ and 282 lbs, Donald was 6’1″ and 285. Donald was an undersized but impressive riser who performed well at the combine. We haven’t seen Hurst at the combine as of my writing this, but the combine makes stars out of guys like Darrius Heyward-Bey and John Ross. Hurst acquired eleven and a half stops for a loss in 2017. Hurst played well against top big ten competition and will be a big time contributor in the NFL.

LSU RB Derrius Guice – Guice averaged five plus yards per carry in 2017 when playing hurt. Guice isn’t quite as stocky or as tall as other backs in the draft (Rashaad Penny, Saquon Barkley) but should be ready for big-boy football after his one hundred plus yard/two touchdown performance against Notre Dame in a bowl game. Guice played admirably for at least two full seasons at LSU.

U Washington LB/DL Hercules Mata’afa – Mata’afa will need some help finding his niche in the NFL. He lined up at linebacker, defensive tackle, edge rusher at least at Washington. Mata’afa collected double digit sacks in 2017. Mata’afa likely projects best as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense because of his size and apparent skill as a blitzer. Mata’afa has shown highly versatile effectiveness not unlike Adalius Thomas the former Raven swiss-army knife defender. Mata’afa had twenty-two and a half tackles for loss in 2017.

U. Texas DB Deshon Elliott – Elliott intercepted six passes and was a part of eight and a half stops for a loss. And he’s a 210 lb safety. Texas has a history of sending defensive backs to the NFL. His plus height at 6’2″ is becoming less of an advantage and more of a requirement as wide receivers and tight ends are seemingly getting bigger and stronger each season. Elliott’s shown he’s not afraid to get involved near the line of scrimmage but can still play the pass well. Elliott played for a team not named Alabama so he’s not high on many pre-draft rankings, but I see a defender who will start early in the NFL.

FSU WR Auden Tate – Auden Tate played on a pretty devastated Florida State team in 2017. Their ability to compete seemed to disappear as their QB went down with a season ending injury in the season opener. Tate caught forty passes for under six hundred yards. But ten of those passes went for touchdowns. That means one of every four passes caught by Auden Tate went for a touchdown. And that was with serious instability at the QB position. Tate’s a huge athlete at 6’5″ and played against elite defenses in the ACC during his career. Tate’s faced questions about his speed against NFL defensive backs. Regardless, he’s shown he can get open against top defenses in the end-zone.

Many superstar college quarterbacks have come to the NFL and failed to transition to the NFL. Tim Tebow. Johnny Manziel. Jake Locker. Robert Griffin III. Jamarcus Russell. Many of these passers won a Heisman and/or a national championship. Robert Griffin could’ve probably been an Olympic sprinter out of college if he had set his sights on track instead of football. These are not unmotivated, lazy, college kids. They are some of the world’s most accomplished athletes, and they had less success in the NFL than Trevor Siemian.

Lamar Jackson could be described as a dual threat QB. He gained 1,600 yards rushing with eighteen rushing touchdowns. Lamar Jackson completed his junior season with a higher completion percentage and yards per attempt score than the apparently highly-loved Josh Allen out of Wyoming. Most NFL writers are grading Jackson as a low first/high second round passer because what he does well does not translate to the NFL..?

If Josh Allen is in play for the first overall pick, as Mike Mayock has suggested, Lamar Jackson warrants a top ten selection at the worst. Jackson played stiff competition in 2017, and while he didn’t always win against top-tier competition he’s steadily improved throughout his college career. Jackson will benefit from an offensive coordinator who can structure offenses around non-traditional passers. Mike McCoy legendarily led Denver to a win IN Pittsburgh against Pittsburgh in the playoffs with Timothy Richard Tebow as QB1. The Cardinals have a gaping hole at the QB position and should be in position to draft Jackson at the fifteen overall position. The Cardinals QB coach, Byron Leftwich has received high praise with head coaching vacancy mentions in the past two seasons.

Jackson shouldn’t switch to wide receiver, he should play the position that he won a Heisman playing. But he’s going to need a coaching staff with mentors that will guide him to be successful in ways that so many have failed to do before him.

 

The Chicago Bears faced the toughest schedule in 2017 with a rookie QB and and an offensive so lacking in playmakers they swung a trade deadline deal for backup Chargers wide receiver Dontrelle Inman who became one of Trubisky’s most targeted players upon arrival. The Bears showed signs of life in 2017 with wins over Carolina and Pittsburgh early in the season. The Bears new head coach, Matt Nagy, is expected to resurrect the Bears offense like he did for Kansas City in 2017 with Alex Smith. While there is no scientific basis for assuming Fox’s departure will make Chicago competitive, the Denver Broncos won the SuperBowl immediately after firing John Fox as HC in 2015.

Assuming the Bears have even a moderately softer schedule in 2018, see some development out of Mitchell Trubisky, and bring in some receiving options for Trubisky, the Bears will take opponents by surprise and contend for a wild card spot.

The Houston Texans could take the AFC South as division champs if DeShaun Watson can stay healthy for sixteen games. More than one thing went wrong for the Texans last season. Stalwart defenders J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus were lost to injury. The Texans were 3-3 when Watson went down, and had only lost to playoff teams (Jax, NE, KC) and by one possession or less at that. Other teams fared better than Houston without their starting QB (see Philadelphia) but it’s clear that the version of the Texans that features DeShaun Watson behind center is extremely entertaining and just as competitive. Tennessee and Jacksonville who tied for the league’s easiest schedule both scraped by with barely nine wins or more. If Bill O’Brien can protect his blue chip passer he will reclaim the AFC South crown in 2018.

The San Francisco 49ers may not be much of a dark horse playoff contender after finishing the season five and O and garnering a dark horse mention by human-energizer bunny Colin Cowherd. The fourth place NFC West team seemed to improve all over the field when Jimmy Garoppolo became the full time starter. The 49ers, like most teams, lost core pieces to injury during the season, like ILB Reuben Foster, SS Jaquiski Tartt, and RT Trent Brown. Important for San Francisco will be winning key matchups with Seattle and Arizona who should be fighting until the very end of the season for playoff status. Seattle looks to take a step back from their grip on the playoffs with so much uncertainty around Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, and Sheldon Richardson for the future. If Shanahan can find a Julio Jones-esque wide receiver this offseason, the 49ers will push deep for the playoffs after a last place finish in 2017.

 

 

The Eagles have every right to brag

Posted: February 13, 2018 in Football, NFL

Every team in the NFL gets bruised with injuries by the end of the season. The Vikings were on their third quarterback and lost their star rookie running back. The Texans went four and twelve and have a QB injury to excuse themselves. The Packers lost Aaron Rodgers for several games at a key juncture during the season. The Cowboys were without their star running back late into the season and even lost pro bowl left tackle Tyron Smith for a few games. The Seahawks were without a number of core defensive starters throughout the season; including Seattle mainstay Richard Sherman. The Colts haven’t had Andrew Luck since Obama was in office.

The Eagles had some injuries as well. They lost possibly the best left tackle in football, Jason Peters half way through the season. They lost super QB Carson Wentz late in the season. They had no right beating more experienced teams in the postseason. Scrappy Atlanta was supposed to beat them in dramatic fashion with a Julio Jones touchdown to close the game with 00:00 on the clock. The “better on paper” Vikings should have beaten Philadelphia with an arguably stronger defense and a much hotter (at the time) Case Keenum at QB.

And then the Eagles faced the Final Boss of the NFL. Bill Belichick and forty year old Tom Brady’s Patriots. The Patriots themselves were dealing with injuries. Wide Receiver Julian Edelman, linebacker, Dont’a Hightower, two top performers from seasons past were out. Even Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Butler had been benched because of illness..?

Ultimately the Eagles variety of weapons and mature play of Nick Foles proved too much for Belichick’s defense. Some point to Brady’s last minute fumble as a key point for the Patriots’ loss. I don’t see that. I see a defense that allowed forty-one points and expected their forty year old quarterback to still win them the game. That’s not reasonable. You can’t reliably win games like that. Brady did his job that game. Nick Foles did his job that game too. Maybe even better than Carson Wentz would have done. Ultimately the Eagles didn’t beat the Patriots because they signed LeGarrette Blount. They beat the Patriots because they found a way to build quality depth. Their backup tight ends are better than most teams’ starting tight ends. They lost their starting left tackle and still had the best offensive line in football. Doug Pederson and Howie Roseman deserve all the credit for building this roster, and for transforming Nick Foles into a Super Bowl MVP.

Adam Shaheen, Bears Tight End – New Bears head coach Matt Nagy was brought in to ‘fix’ or develop young QB Mitch Trubisky. If Trubisky does improve in 2018 the Bears second largest benefactor looks to be tight end Adam Shaheen. A second round pick out of Ashland University, Shaheen was clearly brought in to develop an on field relationship with their young QB. Shaheen has caught twelve of the fourteen passes thrown his way and has three touchdowns in only twelve receptions. Shaheen has a hulking frame even for a tight end at 6’6″, 270 lbs. As Trubisky improves, their biggest target should see more action on the field and in the endzone.

Kevin Dodd, Titans OLB – Dodd, also a second round draft choice with high expectations looks to benefit from a coaching change. Dodd hasn’t burst onto the scene in Tennessee after struggling with injuries. Texans head coach Mike Vrabel, himself a former linebacker, spent time in Houston developing linebackers Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney, two high level linebackers. Dodd possesses impressive size and height that incumbent starter Derrick Morgan doesn’t have. If Vrabel can mentor and teach Dodd like his former Texans players, Dodd has enormous potential to crack the starting lineup and create consistent pressure on opposing QBs.

Several running backs – Baltimore’s Alex Collins, Green Bay’s Jamaal Williams, Cincinnati’s Joe Mixon, Tennessee Titans’ Derrick Henry, Green Bay’s Aaron Jones, Miami’s Kenyon Drake, Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook, Indianapolis’s Marlon Mack.

Some of these players have essentially already broken out. Alex Collins completed more than a thousand yards from scrimmage but his team missed the playoffs and didn’t find the end-zone much. He’s more famous for his Irish dancing than his on-field accomplishments.

Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones in Green Bay both played very well as rookies after Ty Montgomery went down with injury. I foresee them forming a DeAngelo Williams/Jonathan Stewart type (see 2008 Carolina Panthers) duo in Green Bay.

Cincinnati’s Joe Mixon finished with an ugly 3.5 yards per carry but finished his last four games looking pretty solid, including a 96 yard performance in a win against division rival Baltimore. Mixon will likely get even more carries next season and should be a solid fantasy pickup.

Derrick Henry is starting to supplant DeMarco Murray as the lead back in Tennessee. The Titans can tell DeMarco Murray to go take a hike this offseason coincidentally when he turns thirty. Henry’s saw more snaps as the season progressed and generally outperformed Murray in 2017. If Henry does gain the full time RB1 job, you can expect him to jump into the 1,200 rushing yard range next season.

Miami traded Jay Ajayi to Philadelphia and watched Kenyon Drake flourish as the next man up. The Dolphins organization looks like a hot mess right now, but Drake should be able hold down the running back role for the foreseeable future. Drake posted a respectable 80.9 score (out of 100) on profootballfocus.com’s website. Drake is a proven runner and receiver evidenced by his 2017 body of work post-Ajayi.

Dalvin Cook has more or less already broken out with a monster performance week one against the New Orleans Saints. He sustained an injury that left him on I/R. Not every player recovers from injuries well so I’d like to see him perform well over a sixteen game stretch before crowning him a fully ‘broken-out’ player.

Indianapolis’s Marlon Mack did the best he could this season. The Colts fielded one offensive lineman that graded out above 65/100 as a run-blocker this season (LT Anthony Castonzo). The 2006 NFC leading rusher Frank Gore is not under contract with Indy for 2018. If Gore does not return, Mack should see starter-number snaps in 2018. Mack’s pass-catching and running has been a spark of positivity on a Colts’ offense devoid of life outside of the occasional Jacoby Brissett mad dash.

Writing this has been exhausting and sometimes I wonder why I am alive.

Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles QB – Foles will get some offers after a stellar performance against the Vikings in the NFC title game and a Super Bowl berth. Foles could reunite with his former OC Pat Shurmur if the Giants don’t like what Eli gives them at QB. The Arizona Cardinals have a gaping hole at QB now that Carson Palmer has retired. Their starting passer right now is Blaine Gabbert. That’s not a joke. It’s really Gabbert. Foles clearly has talent and can serve as a bridge passer until a team like the Cardinals can develop a rookie like Mason Rudolph or wait to draft U. of Arizona QB Khalil Tate in 2019.

Caleb Brantley, Cleveland Browns DT – Brantley’s been a plus performer on a badly under-performing Browns defense. Brantley plays on a defensive line book-ended by uber-athlete Myles Garrett and the physically imposing Emmanuel Ogbah. Ogbah doesn’t have the pass rushing stats that Garrett has, but he’s effective against the run and even has several passes defended. Brantley’s been productive as a backup defensive tackle and could break out next year as Garrett and Ogbah improve. Young DT Danny Shelton can swallow up blockers for Brantley to find access to opposing QBs. Brantley has significant potential to form one of the league’s best front fours.

 

Eagles backup QB Nick Foles and Vikings backup QB Case Keenum will square off this coming Sunday at Lincoln Financial field for the NFC Championship.

Though the Vikings had a slightly tougher regular season schedule both teams won their division and finished thirteen and three through the regular season. The Vikings also have had stronger play from their defense (first in scoring for the regular season) and quarterback (A.C., After Carson Wentz).

The Eagles have been very impressive this season with top five performances in the regular season in both scoring offense and scoring defense. They have impressive depth with standout play at less glamorous positions like Guard (Brandon Brooks), Center (Jason Kelce), backup wide receiver (Nelson Agholor), and third string tight end (Trey Burton). One secret weapon that may be the deciding factor this game is Eagles kicker Jake Elliott. Elliott has already kicked a career long sixty-one yard field goal this season. If this game ends up becoming a close game like the Saints/Vikings or Eagles/Falcons the eagles ability to kick a long field may decide the game. The Eagles also get to play this game at home.

Both rosters are relatively fresh to the playoffs and can play the underdog card.¬†Ultimately I expect the Vikings to win a close game in Philadelphia. The Vikings have been even better on defense than Philly and have a quarterback that can throw them back into the game if needs be. The Eagles don’t have this.

Fun Fact: Both Nick Foles and Case Keenum were teammates on the fateful 2015 Jeff Fisher-led St. Louis Rams team.

The Jaguars/Patriots game

Posted: January 17, 2018 in Football, New entries, NFL

Let’s talk about the upcoming AFC Championship game.

The Patriots are favored by nine and a half points in Foxboro Stadium. They have the most playoff-experienced roster in Football. They have home-field advantage. They have evil mastermind head coach Bill Belichick and five time SuperBowl winner Tom Brady at quarterback. They even have tight end Rob Gronkowski healthy, who they did not have last year when they triumphed over Atlanta in the SuperBowl. There are many strong reasons to believe that the Patriots will win this game.

There are also some good reasons to believe the Jaguars can upset them. The Jacksonville Jaguars are structured like the type of team that has foiled Belichick’s Patriots in the past. They possess an elite defense, number one against the pass. Rex Ryan’s New York Jets, Tom Coughlin’s New York Giants and more recently the Denver Broncos of 2015 defeated the Patriots in the playoffs in the past in large part due to their pass rush and high-level secondary play. Tom Coughlin more notably won two SuperBowls against Belichick with a scary defense and stable play offensively. Coughlin, now the Jaguars GM will surely be more involved in this game than in any of his Jaguars games so far.

Ultimately I expect New England to win at home. The Jaguars defensively have been softer against the run and Belichick has never hesitated to hand off to Dion Lewis (who is playing like an all pro according to profootballfocus.com), Rex Burkhead, James White, or Mike Gillislee when the defense has looked soft up front. If either team falls behind, the Patriots are built to come back with Brandin Cooks, Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola all playing effective football. The Jaguars arguably have better wide receivers than New England but Bortles hasn’t been consistent enough for Jacksonville to rely on every week.

By the way, I predicted that Jacksonville would beat Pittsburgh in the playoffs in a previous post, and they did.